Spotify family plan crackdown threatens account sharing [Updated]

Chris Davies - Sep 28, 2018, 11:21am CDT
Spotify family plan crackdown threatens account sharing [Updated]

Spotify may crack down on friends sharing subscriptions to its more cost-effective family plan, demanding GPS location data from some of its users. The streaming music provider has offered a family plan since 2014, making it more competitive in mid-2016 by allowing up to six people to share a premium subscription for $14.99 per month.

That’s far cheaper than it would be for each of those six people to have an individual Spotify Premium subscription of their own, which cost $9.99 per user. Each family plan user gets their own recommendations, playlists, and saved music.

What Spotify hasn’t been doing, at least until now, though, is checking to see if those family plan users are actually, well, a family. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see a group of friends sharing a single family plan because it makes more financial sense that way. Now, though, Spotify is seemingly cracking down, using a little-known loophole in its terms of service.

Turns out, Spotify always had some limits on its family plan, it just wasn’t really enforcing them. “All account holders must reside at the same address to be eligible for the Premium for Family Plan,” the company’s terms and conditions read. If they don’t, Spotify reserves the right to terminate the plan, at which point everybody reverts to the feature-limited Spotify Free tier.

In emails to a number of Spotify Family subscribers, the company is now insisting that they confirm their location in order to keep the service. “To continue using Spotify Premium for Family, you’ll need to confirm your home address,” the message reads, Quartz reports. “If you don’t confirm, you may lose access to the plan.”

That confirmation process won’t just take subscribers’ word for it, either. Instead, it uses GPS to pinpoint where each person is. That, many have pointed out, has privacy implications, though Spotify insists that it “will only use your GPS data to verify your location and nothing else.”

Subscription sharing is, undoubtedly, eating into potential profits of services like Spotify. After all, it could be making $59.94 each month from six regular Spotify Premium subscribers, rather than them paying just $2.50 per month. However it also raises questions about the nature of modern families, and whether it’s realistic to expect everybody who is considered a “family” to also reside in the same location.

“Spotify is currently testing improvements to the user experience of Premium for Family with small user groups in select markets,” the company said in a statement. “We are always testing new products and experiences at Spotify, but have no further news to share regarding this particular feature test at this time.”

It’s not the first move Spotify has made in recent months to limit people gaming its service. Back in March, it began clamping down on Spotify Free service users who were relying on ad-skipping apps to bypass the promotions used to subsidize their listening. The company claimed that around two million users were relying on those unofficial apps to game its system.

Had Spotify named its family tier “Spotify Household,” it could probably have gotten around this controversy – at the cost of a somewhat more awkward name, mind. Still, if it decides to enact the restrictions its terms and conditions permit, it’s questionable whether subscribers ousted from family plans will necessarily sign up to an individual premium subscription afterwards, rather than look elsewhere to less restrictive services.

Update: Spotify has ended its “test” requiring GPS location confirmation.

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